Mediterranean dance music fills the auditorium at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. A group of young thespians, clad in sweatpants and T-shirts, jump, stretch, twist and move like an early morning aerobics class. Sweat drips from the actors. Each is participating in summer stock theater at the Bigfork Playhouse, an experience they find both grueling and rewarding.
Cary Mitchell, an actor from Virginia and recent theater graduate spending his second summer in Bigfork, sums up the experience of a summer at the Playhouse: “one-fourth boot camp, one-fourth school, one-fourth summer camp and one-fourth a party.”
The playhouse actors put in long hours in preparation for a demanding schedule. During the first several weeks of spring, the actors participated in an exhausting rehearsal schedule. After a few weekend-only shows in late May and early June, the actors perform six days a week, putting in 10 to 12 hour days for the remainder of the summer.
Even with the long days and taxing schedules actors keep coming back to Bigfork. Of the 20 who performed last summer, 13 opted to return and spend another summer at the playhouse.
For David Errigo, a theater student from the University of Montana, this is his first summer at the playhouse.
“If you want to do musical theater in Montana this is where you go,” Errigo said. “It has an immaculate reputation.”
The playhouse invites back any cast member willing to return and holds auditions across the country for the remaining spots. Actors agree that the fact that they have a role in every single production draws them to Bigfork.
“We have a hand in every show,” Mitchell said. “You are guaranteed a good role to put on your resume.”
The playhouse was established in 1960 and by all accounts was the first of its kind in the Flathead Valley. The 432-seat theater hosts a packed house nearly every night. It is also one of the few repeating theaters in the country, meaning that they rotate a select number of plays throughout the season.
“Our theater is known and well-respected,” long-time theater producer Donald Thomson said. “We have a great company that understands what it takes to put our kinds of shows together.”
Jake Klinkhammer, a playhouse actor from Minnesota believes the playhouse helps define Bigfork. “The theater brings people to the area,” he said. “The theater runs the city.”
The actors agree that the long summer together in a small community leads to better shows each time out.
“Theater is about making meaningful connections,” Klinkhamer said. “This helps people forget their lives and see someone else’s. The Bigfork Summer Playhouse lends itself to that.”
A summer at the playhouse is unlike any other, Mitchell says, and he enjoys how it keeps a low profile for such a high level of performance.
“There is no where else I would rather be,” he said. “I don’t want to tell too many people about it … it is almost a secret.”
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